Deepak Chopra discusses the role of alternative medicine and spirituality in wellbeing

Integrated medicine expert Deepak Chopra joined USC’s dean of religious life in virtual conversation through Visions and Voices’ THRIVE series

Deepak Chopra, an integrated medicine pioneer and best-selling author, sat down with USC’s Varun Soni, dean of religious and spiritual life, for a deep conversation about a range of New Age concepts as they relate to our wellbeing. Monday’s talk was the second part of the THRIVE series by USC Visions and Voices.

Chopra, a former physician, stepped out of his traditional medical background during the event to discuss how alternative medicine and certain Eastern philosophies can help improve our overall wellbeing.

His messages on alternative medicine were well received by senior journalism major Paloma Chavez, whose family has been helped by alternative medicine at times when Western practices fell short.

“My mom’s big thing is that Western medicine is just like a Band-Aid, whereas Eastern and alternative [medicine] really gets to the root,” Chavez explained.

When Chopra began listing his six pillars of wellbeing, Chavez wrote them down in her notes: good sleep, self-inquiry, emotional resilience, diet, exercise and connection to nature.

Chavez and her family attended the virtual talk together, despite them being physically spread across the country.

For Jolie Goldberg, a USC senior business major and performance science minor, the topic of holistic wellness drew her to the event.

“I think it’s a lifestyle,” said Goldberg. “It’s not about, you know, taking a pill and making whatever illness or symptom you have go away. It’s about nurturing, not just like your body, but your mind, your environment, the people around you.”

Beyond the domain of alternative medicine, Chopra also introduced philosophies that sounded as radical as they did soothing.

“The body is a verb, not a noun,” said Chopra responding to Soni’s initial question about what we should pursue in life.

Chopra calmly continued that our bodies and minds are constantly changing yet also are temporary activities of consciousness. He claims that the ultimate purpose of spiritual practice is to find out who we are beyond these things.

One of my favorite spiritual insights from the event was Chopra’s explanation of the Hindu concept of Satchitananda.

As described by Chopra, Satchitananda can be broken down into the following:

- Sat - the truth of existence

- Chit - awareness of our existence

- Ananda - the joy of existence for no reason (this part was my favorite)

“Look at a baby,” Chopra said. “You see babies bubbling with joy for no reason whatsoever, unless they’re wet or hungry. So, that’s our innate condition. We don’t need to pursue it; we have to go home to where we started from.”

Sometimes I think about all the stress and anguish we put ourselves through for no good reason. The pressure to achieve some form of the American Dream, the toxic self-comparisons we make, the desire to protect our fragile pride — these are all largely self-induced. What if we let go of some of these social constructs for a moment and allow our pure sense of wonderment to resurface? Would we then experience the bliss of simply existing?

On the other hand, letting go of social constructs won’t put food on the table or pay the rent. Chopra made sure to address this when he said that it is often the very poor and the some of the very rich that are unhappy, for these are the two groups that cannot think of anything but money; the very poor need it to survive and the very rich need it to justify their self-worth.

This reminded me of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Before reaching self-actualization at the top of this hierarchy, one must first progress through the lower tiers, with basic physiological needs sitting at the very bottom.

My question to Chopra: is a life devoted to spirituality (and thus free from social constructs) not then a privilege?

With the remote nature of the event, USC has made the THRIVE series open to the public, rather than just USC students and faculty. If you missed Chopra’s talk or simply want to review a few ideas, you can view the full recording here, on USC’s official YouTube channel.